Palaeography Class Trip 2016/17

Friday 28 April 2017
Students on ME5005/MS5023 in a seminar in St Andrews on 15th century hands, studying the Roll of Kings ms38660

As we move into May, the regular pattern of visiting classes using Special Collections materials comes to an end. We have enjoyed bringing original material to a wide variety of sessions this semester for both undergraduate and taught Masters students. We have worked with our academic colleagues to discover resources which have helped explorations of Tennyson, Romantic Gothic novels, Persian manuscripts, photographs of the near and far East, the early Tudors, the French enlightenment, anthropological stories, the continental reformation, books of hours and illuminated manuscripts. In addition there have been core courses on Material Bibliography and Palaeography continuing throughout the year. Our group visits change during the summer to conference delegates, alumni reunions and family groups.

Medieval Palaeography students on our class visit to Aberdeen University’s Special Collections

As the final fling on our Medieval Palaeography module, Dr Margaret Connolly of the School of English and Institute of Medieval Studies and Rachel Hart, Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments (who team teach the palaeography courses), arrange an annual visit to see 15th century manuscripts held elsewhere. This is an integral part of the course, as it supplements our own holdings with which the students have become familiar. Our class field trip has previously been to see some of the wonderful medieval manuscripts held at the Glasgow University Library. This year we decided to go to Aberdeen, and on an unseasonably cold and snowy day, we ventured further north than most of the students had previously been!

15th century manuscripts which are similar to examples held in St Andrews: Aberdeen ms 164 Pomponius Mela De Cosmographia (top right), ms 258 English Medical Recipes (bottom right) and ms 274 Book of hours, Flanders (left)
The borders of Aberdeen ms 274 which belonged to Helena vanden Schagen in the 15th century are full of little characters with fine detail
This image is trying to show that this tiny book of hours has full page illuminations with separate prayers written on the back which are not part of the text of the hours. This first one occurs between the calendar and the start of the text (Aberdeen ms 276)
Aberdeen University Library’s Wolfson Reading Room

We are most grateful to our colleagues Andrew Macgregor and Jane Pirie at the University of Aberdeen’s Special Collections Centre for their welcome. We were able to see the wonderful facilities in the lower ground level of the impressive new Sir Duncan Rice Library, and to spend time with a selection of spectacular 15th century manuscripts.

Margaret in full flow, with Andrew showing images of the fully digitised Aberdeen Bestiary on screen

We had chosen, from the catalogue, manuscripts with text in vernacular languages and which featured illumination or decoration. Margaret produced a summary handout for the students to use. This gives extra information on the manuscripts featured in this post, and full details can be found on the Aberdeen Special Collections catalogue here.

Margaret, Pauline, Laura and Maya handling the material very carefully – well done!
This exhibition display was blown up large and mounted on the wall, cleverly explaining terminology

The visit was topped off with a tour of the ‘Cover Stories’ exhibition, curated by Jane, which featured some beautiful bindings from the Library’s collections and some innovative engagement ideas. We were made to feel very welcome and were very envious of many aspects of the library, and interested in how it differed from St Andrews – not least that the automated book return sortation device, with its robotic action, was visible through glass walls in the entrance hall!

The exhibition was very accessible to children of all ages! Pauline, Laura and Stephanie enjoyed doing the jigsaw. The pairs memory game was presented in a wooden book-shaped box – a lovely touch.
A digitised image from an early Aberdeen burgh register as the source for transcription. Images have been produced by the NRS.

After lunch we walked through Old Aberdeen to the Humanity Manse to visit the collaborative project working on UNESCO-designated records of national significance. The Aberdeen Burgh Records Project is a collaboration between the University, the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives and the National Records of Scotland (NRS) that has been in place since 2012. After two pilot studies, a major Leverhulme-funded project is now underway (2016-19). More details can be found here:

A sample page showed us the challenges faced by the transcribers

Research Assistants Dr Claire Hawes and Dr William Hepburn gave us a fascinating insight into their work. They are transforming the heavily abbreviated handwritten records into an accurate Text Encoding Initiative representation of textual meaning and structure, which will make the records digitally available to scholarship. We marvelled at their ability to transcribe the handwritten Burgh registers from 1398-1511, and they set us exercises to test our palaeography! We were delighted to be able to tell the students that Claire had originally learned her palaeography through courses in St Andrews and honed it in work on Burnwynd-funded projects.

Aberdeen Burgh Registers 1 and 5. These are in the custody of the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives and are normally held at the Town House
L to r: Phil Astley, City Archivist, Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives; Dr William Hepburn and Dr Claire Hawes, Research Assistants.
Laura having a go with the Oxygen tool

We were joined by Aberdeen City Archivist Phil Astley who had very kindly brought three of the original registers, digital images of which have been used by the project. We had a chance to see the transcription, encoding and mark up process and even to have a go ourselves at the project workstations. The whole day provided a journey from the 15th to the 21st centuries, from wonderful original documents to the way that they can be made accessible in new formats today for all kinds of research. Maya said:

“I thought it was really neat to see a real-world application of the skills we’ve learned. The project Claire is working on was very interesting and insightful about the future job-related possibilities of palaeography”.

At the end of a very interesting visit to the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project in the Humanity Manse

Rachel Hart
Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments

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4 thoughts on "Palaeography Class Trip 2016/17"

  • Palaeography Day Trip to Aberdeen – St Andrews Institute for Mediaeval Studies
    Wednesday 10 May 2017, 2.17pm

    […] Margaret Connolly and Rachel Hart took MLitt students in Medieval Studies and Medieval History to Aberdeen on Monday 24 April to see 15th– century manuscripts in the University Library’s Special Collections. These included copies of saint’ lives, sermons, devotional prose, medical texts, and classical commentaries, and the manuscripts varied in size from a massive copy of John Trevisa’s translation of the Polychronicon to a tiny palm-sized book of hours. We also saw original medieval records at the Aberdeen Burgh Records project where St Andrews history graduate Dr Claire Hawes showed us some very practical modern applications for palaeographical skills. More details about what we saw in Aberdeen (including pictures) can be found on this ‘Echoes from the Vault’ blog post: […]

  • Historical Highlights 089
    Friday 12 May 2017, 3.36pm

    […] palaeography class takes a field trip to Aberdeen. (And here’s my vocabulary quiz where you can test your knowledge of the word […]

  • Special Collections Teaching 2017/2018 – Martinmas Semester | Echoes from the Vault
    Wednesday 6 December 2017, 2.39pm

    […] Special Collections’ active role in co-teaching the postgraduate level palaeography courses (Palaeography Class Trip 2016/17 and ReadMe Tool) but the library’s collections are also used for undergraduate level teaching and […]

  • Special Collections Teaching 2017-2018 Candlemas Semester | Echoes from the Vault
    Monday 21 May 2018, 11.31am

    […] with original sources. This time, as well as visiting the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project (see for details of last year’s visit which was repeated this time), they were able to get a […]


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